Richard Blanco is the fifth presidential inaugural poet in U.S. history—the youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role. Born in Madrid to Cuban exile parents and raised in Miami, the negotiation of cultural identity and place characterize his body of work. He is the author of the poetry collections Looking for the Gulf Motel, Directions to the Beach of the Dead, and City of a Hundred Fires; the poetry chapbooks Matters of the Sea, One Today, and Boston Strong; a children’s book of his inaugural poem, “One Today,” illustrated by Dav Pilkey; and Boundaries, a collaboration with photographer Jacob Hessler. His latest book of poems, How to Love a Country (Beacon Press, 2019), both interrogates the American narrative, past and present, and celebrates the still unkept promise of its ideals. He has also authored the memoirs The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood and For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey. Blanco’s many honors include the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize from the University of Pittsburgh Press, the PEN/Beyond Margins Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize, a Lambda Literary Award, and two Maine Literary Awards. He has been a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow and received honorary doctorates from Macalester College, Colby College, and the University of Rhode Island. He has been featured on CBS Sunday Morning and NPR’s Fresh Air. The Academy of American Poets named him its first Education Ambassador in 2015. Blanco has continued to write occasional poems for organizations and events such as the re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Havana. He lives with his partner in Bethel, ME.
Janet Fitch is an American author and teacher of fiction writing. She is the author of the #1 national bestseller White Oleander, a novel translated into 24 languages, an Oprah Book Club book and the basis of a feature film, Paint It Black, also widely translated and made into a 2017 film, and her epic novels of the Russian Revolution, The Revolution of Marina M. and Chimes of a Lost Cathedral. Additionally, she has written a young adult novel, Kicks, short stories, essays, articles, and reviews, contributed to anthologies and regularly teaches at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. She taught creative writing for 14 years in the USC Master of Professional Writing program, as well as VCFA’s Writing and Publishing program, A Room of Her Own (AROHO), the UCLA Writer’s Program, and Pomona College. She lectures frequently on fiction writing. Fitch was a 2009 Likhachev Cultural Fellow to St. Petersburg, Russia, a Helen R. Whiteley Fellow, a Research Fellow at the Huntington Library and a Moseley Fellow at Pomona College. Fitch graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 1978 with a BA in History. She lives in Los Angeles and travels whenever she gets the chance.
Renowned as a “poet of witness,” Carolyn Forché is the author of five books of poetry. Her first poetry collection, Gathering The Tribes (Yale University Press, 1976), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. In 1977, she traveled to Spain to translate the work of Salvadoran-exiled poet Claribel Alegría, and upon her return, received a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to El Salvador, where she worked as a human rights advocate. Her second book, The Country Between Us (Harper and Row, 1982), received the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was also the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets. Her third book of poetry, The Angel of History (HarperCollins, 1994), was chosen for The Los Angeles Times Book Award. Blue Hour is her fourth collection of poems (HarperCollins, 2003). Her most recent collection, In the Lateness of the World (Penguin Press, 2020), is a tenebrous book of crossings, of migrations across oceans and borders but also between the present and the past, life and death. In 1998 in Stockholm, she was given the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation for Peace and Culture Award, in recognition of her work on behalf of human rights and the preservation of memory and culture. Forché has held three fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1992 received a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship. In 2013, Forché won the Academy of American Poets Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement. In 2014 Forche was announced a finalist for the 24th Neustadt International Prize for Literature. Carolyn Forché is Lannan Visiting Professor of Poetry and Professor of English at Georgetown University, and lives in Maryland with her husband, Photographer Harry Mattison.
Judy Grahn is a poet, writer, teacher, and cultural theorist; foremother of feminist, gay, and lesbian liberation movements and of the field of women’s spirituality. Earlier nonfiction books include Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds, and Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World. Her memoir is A Simple Revolution: The Making of an Activist Poet. Two collections of her poetry from Red Hen Press, and also The Judy Grahn Reader from Aunt Lute Books, are available. In 2000, she received her PhD from the California Institute of Integral Studies, where she is Distinguished Associated Professor. In 1996, The Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction was established by Publishing Triangle in New York; in 2016, the My Good Judy art and scholar residency was established in New Orleans. Grahn’s work has been anthologized in collections from W. W. Norton & Company, Penguin Books, Penngrove, and Oxford University Press, among many others. She has received several lifetime achievement and foremother awards and has been Grand Marshall of two Gay Pride Parades. The Commonality Institute promotes her work overall, while a Metaformia journal archive at www.metaformia.org, retains articles on her Metaformic Theory. Her love of creatures and spirit is lifetime. She lives with her spouse in Palo Alto, CA.
Lawson Fusao Inada was born in 1938 in Fresno, California, a third-generation Japanese American. His grandparents founded the Fresno Fish Market, his father was a dentist, and his mother was a teacher. In 1942, Inada and his family were sent to internment camps, first in Fresno, then in Arkansas and Colorado; he was one of the youngest to live in the camps. A jazz bass player and jazz aficionado, he studied poetry with Philip Levine at Fresno State University. Inada’s collections of poetry are Before the War: Poems as They Happened (1971); Legends from Camp (1992), winner of the American Book Award; Just Into/Nations (1996); and Drawing the Line (1997), winner of the Oregon Book Award. Both jazz and the experience of internment are influences in Inada’s writing. The section titles of his Legends from Camp reveal these ongoing concerns: Camp, Fresno, Jazz, Oregon, and Performance. Inada edited the anthology Only What We Carry: The Japanese Internment Experience (2000), a major contribution to the record of the Japanese American experience. He narrated the PBS documentaries Children of the Camps and Conscience and Constitution and is featured in the video What It Means to Be Free: A Video About Poetry and Japanese American Internment and the animated film Legends from Camp, made with his son Miles Inada. Inada was appointed Oregon poet laureate in 2006. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Creative Arts Grant from the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. One of his poems is inscribed on a stone at the Japanese American Historical Plaza in Portland, Oregon.
Born in Dover, New Jersey in 1929, poet and children’s book author X.J. (Joseph Charles) Kennedy is known for creating engaging, humorous work that reaches readers of all ages. He is the author of numerous poetry collections, including Fits of Concision: Collected Poems of Six or Fewer Lines (2014), In a Prominent Bar in Secaucus: New & Selected Poems (2007), Dark Horses: New Poems (1992), and Breaking and Entering (1971). His many works for young audiences include Exploding Gravy: Poems to Make You Laugh (2002), Elympics (1999), Ghastlies, Goops, and Pincushions: Nonsense Verse (1989), and Brats (1986). While Kennedy’s nonsense verse—in which strange animals are often set in domestic situations—reflects the absurdity of modern life, his more serious children’s poems investigate loss, loneliness, and aching desire. Kennedy earned a BSc from Seton Hall in 1950 and an MA from Columbia University in 1951. He then worked as a journalist in the US Navy’s Atlantic Fleet for four years. From 1955 to 1956, he studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, and from 1957 to 1962, he did graduate work in literature at the University of Michigan. Kennedy was a poetry editor at the Paris Review in the 1960s. He has taught at the University of Michigan, Wellesley, Tufts, Leeds, and elsewhere. Kennedy and his wife also collaborated on textbooks and edited a poetry magazine, Counter/Measures. Kennedy and his wife also collaborated on an anthology of children’s poetry, Knock at a Star: A Child’s Introduction to Poetry (1982), which included poems by William Blake, Bob Dylan, and other major figures. Kennedy lives in Bedford, Massachusetts with his family.
Gina Knox holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of South Dakota. A former resident of the Pasadena area for over eighteen years, she still actively participates in community service since moving outside of the area. Gina was on the Board of Directors for the Pasadena Museum of California Art, participating on the Education Committee. She is involved in the Yes, Virginia Fund, an organization that raises funds providing grants to local non-profit agencies in order to offer positive experiences for underprivileged children. She has served on the Board of the National Charity League as Recording Secretary, Vice President of Grade Level Advisors and, in 2004, as Chairman of the Debutante Ball. Gina has two children, a son and daughter, and currently resides in Malibu, CA with her husband.
In 1947, Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana, where he was raised during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. He served in the United States Army from 1969 to 1970 as a correspondent, and as managing editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam War, earning him a Bronze Star. Komunyakaa first received wide recognition following the 1984 publication of Copacetic (Wesleyan University Press), a collection of poems built from colloquial speech which demonstrated his incorporation of jazz influences. He followed the book with two others: I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head (Wesleyan University Press, 1986), winner of the San Francisco Poetry Center Award; and Dien Cai Dau (Wesleyan University Press, 1988), which won The Dark Room Poetry Prize. Since then, he has published several books of poems, including Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems 1977-1989 (Wesleyan University Press, 1994), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; and Magic City (Wesleyan University Press, 1992). Komunyakaa has also written dramatic works, including Gilgamesh: A Verse Play (Wesleyan University Press, 2006), and Slip Knot, a libretto in collaboration with Composer T. J. Anderson and commissioned by Northwestern University. Komunyakaa is the recipient of the Wallace Stevens Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the William Faulkner Prize from the Université de Rennes, the Thomas Forcade Award, the Hanes Poetry Prize, fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Louisiana Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1999. He lives in New York City where he is currently Distinguished Senior Poet in New York University’s graduate creative writing program.
Born in 1957 of Chinese parents in Jakarta, Indonesia, Li-Young Lee learned early about loss and exile. His great grandfather was China’s first republican President; and his father, a deeply religious Christian, was physician to Communist leader Mao Tse-Tung. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Lee’s parents escaped to Indonesia. In 1959, his father, after spending a year as a political prisoner in President Sukarno’s jails, fled Indonesia with his family to escape anti-Chinese sentiment. After a five-year trek through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, they settled in the United States in 1964. Li-Young Lee is the author of five critically acclaimed books of poetry, most recently The Undressing (W.W Norton, 2018), Behind My Eyes (W.W. Norton, 2008), and a chapbook The Word From His Song (BOA Editions, 2016). His earlier collections are Book of My Nights (BOA Editions, 2001); Rose (BOA, 1986), winner of the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University; The City in Which I Love You (BOA, 1991), the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection; and a memoir entitled The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (Simon and Schuster, 1995), which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation and will be reissued by BOA Editions in 2012. Lee’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Lannan Foundation, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, as well as grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. In 1988 he received the Writer’s Award from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation. He is also featured in Katja Esson‘s documentary, Poetry of Resilience. He lives in Chicago with his wife Donna and their two sons.
Ishmael Reed was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and grew up in working class neighborhoods in Buffalo, New York. He attended Buffalo public schools, and from 1956 to 1959 was enrolled at the University of Buffalo, which awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Letters in 1995. Now a Distinguished Professor at California College of the Arts, where he teaches creative writing, he also taught a Spring 2019 poetry writing class at UC Berkeley. Author of more than thirty published books to date, Ishmael Reed is a novelist, poet, playwright, lyricist and essayist. His most recent novel, Conjugating Hindi, was published in April, 2018 by Dalkey Archive Press. His most recent book of essays, Why No Confederate Statues in Mexico, was published in Fall, 2019 by Baraka Books of Montreal. He has been the recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant, has been a Pulitzer finalist, and he has been nominated twice for the National Book Award. Reed’s most recent honors include the 2018 Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Award and the 2017 AUDELCO Pioneer Award for the Theater. Reed is also a publisher, editor of fourteen anthologies and numerous magazines, television producer, public media commentator, teacher and lecturer. Ishmael Reed is a founder of the Before Columbus Foundation, which celebrated their 43rd anniversary with presentations of the 2019 American Book Awards. Sponsored by the foundation since 1980, its American Book Awards have been called the American League to the National Book Awards’ National League. He also founded PEN Oakland which issues the Josephine Miles literary awards. Currently he also serves on the board of the Berkeley Black Repertory Group.
Deborah Schneider grew up in Chicago. After graduating from college, she moved to San Francisco where she co-founded a small press literary magazine, and was inspired to pursue a career in book publishing. She moved to New York in 1978 and worked for several years for the movie studios as a book scout and story editor. In 1981, seeking a less corporate environment, Deborah partnered with Jane Gelfman as an agent in the New York office of the venerable British Literary Agency, John Farquharson Ltd. Deborah began building her American client list and in 1992, she and Jane bought the agency and established Gelfman Schneider Literary Agents, which continues to thrive today. Deborah represents a large variety of prominent and bestselling writers, across all categories of literary and commercial fiction and nonfiction. She is a member of her professional organization, The Association of Authors Representatives, and has served on their Board and on their Royalty Committee for twenty-five years.
Born in the U.S. to immigrant parents from China, Amy Tan grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Amy attended five colleges: Linfield College, San Jose City College, San Jose State University, University of California at Santa Cruz, and University of California at Berkeley. She received her B.A. with a double major in English and Linguistics, followed by her M.A. in Linguistics. In 1989, Amy’s first book, The Joy Luck Club, was hailed as a novel and became a surprise bestseller, spending over forty weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. Her other novels are The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Saving Fish from Drowning, and The Valley of Amazement (2013), all New York Times bestsellers. She is also the author of a memoir, The Opposite of Fate, two children’s books, The Moon Lady and Sagwa, The Chinese Siamese Cat and numerous articles for magazines, including The New Yorker, Harper’s Bazaar, and National Geographic. Amy Tan latest book, Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s Memoir, will be published by ECCO/HarperCollins in October 2017. She is at work on another novel, The Memory of Desire. Amy Tan has been nominated for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the International Orange Prize, and has won many awards including the Commonwealth Gold Award. She has delivered a TED talk and spoken at the White House, appeared on the popular NPR program Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me, as well as on Sesame Street on Public Television. In keeping with her love of science in the wild and childhood love of doodling, she recently took up nature journal sketching. Amy lives with her husband and their two dogs in California and New York.
Afaa Michael Weaver (蔚雅風 in Chinese, and previously Michael S. Weaver) was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. After two years of study at the University of Maryland-College Park, he later earned his BA at Regents College-University of the State of New York (now Excelsior College) and completed graduate work in creative writing at Brown University, where his focus was playwriting and theater. Weaver’s early poetry was influenced by the Black Arts Movement and the poetry of Lucille Clifton. His first collection of poetry, Water Song (1985), was ten years in the making. During those apprenticeship years, he also wrote short fiction, worked as a freelance journalist, and established 7th Son Press, a small press that produced the journal Blind Alleys. In 1985, Weaver earned a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship for poetry. He has taught at Essex County College, Seton Hall Law School, CUNY, NYU, Rutgers University, Simmons College, and Drew University’s MFA program. He was the editor of Obsidian III from 1997 until 2001, when he accepted an appointment from the Fulbright Association to teach at National Taiwan University. Weaver has received numerous awards, including the 2014 Kingsley Tufts Award for The Government of Nature (2013), multiple Pushcart prizes, a Pew fellowship, the May Sarton Award, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2017. A student of Chinese culture and language for most of his life, Weaver received the Gold Friendship Medal in 2005 from the Beijing Writers Association for his work with Chinese poets. Weaver was a member of Cave Canem’s first faculty at the retreat in 1997, and in 1998 he became the first “Elder” of the Cave Canem organization. His papers are held in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.
Karen Tei Yamashita is the author of Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, Brazil-Maru, Tropic of Orange, Circle K Cycles, I Hotel, Anime Wong: Fictions of Performance, and Letters to Memory, all published by Coffee House Press. I Hotel was selected as a finalist for the National Book Award and awarded the California Book Award, the American Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association Award, and the Association for Asian American Studies Book Award. She received a US Artists Ford Foundation Fellowship and is Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz.